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Opinion: Why DACA program needs a permanent replacement

Photo provided by Creative Commons.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” For centuries, Emma Lazarus’ quote inscribed on the Statue of Liberty has welcomed immigrants into America.

Our country has granted approximately 800,000 so-called “Dreamers” protection under former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy. Enacted via executive order in August of 2012, the program shelters 222,795 young adults in California alone, more than any other state in the nation.

On Sept. 5, Attorney General Jefferson Sessions declared President Donald Trump’s intention to phase out DACA, leaving hundreds of thousands of young immigrants at risk of deportation.

Over subsequent weeks, the Trump administration’s stance on DACA flipped, and there have been conflicting bits of information from Trump and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer regarding Trump’s willingness to discuss alternate Congressional legal action to create a more permanent solution to protect DACA recipients.

By recklessly dismantling a popular and effective program without suggesting a viable alternative, Trump has targeted young immigrants in a manner that is indefensible and unjust.

Critics claim that the program promotes unfair amnesty for undocumented people. There are many legitimate reasons to want to discourage illegal immigration, but DACA, which specifically deals with children brought to America when they were younger than 16 years old, is different.

These individuals were not old enough to be held accountable for their parents’ crime of illegally crossing.

Co-President of the Brentwood School Latino Student Alliance and senior Sophia H. said that children should not be held responsible for their parents’ actions or forced to return to their country of birth once after having made America their home.

DACA is not a handout; it offers a two-year deferral from deportation while requiring immigrants to meet a high bar to merit becoming a Dreamer. Recipients must either have completed high school, be enrolled in high school, serve in the armed services, or have received an honorable discharge. All Dreamers must have lived in the United States for five continuous years and pay a fee for their undocumented entry, and none are allowed to have a felony criminal conviction or significant misdemeanor.

In the absence of presidential leadership, Congress has an obligation to take charge and protect young immigrants. I contend that Dreamers deserve a more permanent solution and a more concrete path towards citizenship beyond a temporary deferral.

On Oct. 2, senators held initial hearings seeking to replace DACA with longer-term legislation. Many Republicans are seeking to link the new legislation to augmented border security, while Democrats appear resistant to additional security measures.

These details will need to be addressed, but at least we have started the conversation. Protecting a new generation of immigrant innovators and thinkers is vital to continued American success and strength.

California’s state government has also taken action in the wake of Sessions’ announcement, suing Trump’s administration and citing the uniquely harmful impact DACA’s revocation would have on California’s economy due to the multitude of DACA recipients currently residing within the state. And, on Sept. 17, the California legislature approved Senate Bill 54. Referred to as the “California Values Act” and a “Sanctuary State” bill, Senate Bill 54 discourages state and local law enforcement from sharing information about non-violent California residents with federal immigration agents.

America is a country of immigrants. DACA represents the best qualities of the American Dream. Regardless of one’s stance on immigration, the deportation of childhood immigrants is the wrong way to enforce our borders. Sending young adults who have built a life in America back to countries they no longer know or may not even remember is reprehensible.

Diversity is America’s greatest strength. DACA’s revocation is a slap in the face of the ideals that make America great.

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